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Published: Saturday, 12/30/2006

Council at stalemate over president's job

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Councilman Mark Sobczak talks about support for Wilma Brown, right, in her bid to become president of the council. Councilman Mark Sobczak talks about support for Wilma Brown, right, in her bid to become president of the council.
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Differences among Democrats appear to have put the fate of the Toledo City Council presidency at a stalemate.

Councilman Wilma Brown formalized her intentions yesterday to replace Republican Rob Ludeman as president, arguing that she could provide a bridge to the mayor's office that Democratic rival Frank Szollosi could not.

"There's no consensus," said Ms. Brown, who would be the council's first woman president. "Anything that comes down from the mayor's department and his administration is criticized, without even trying to compromise and work it out."

Although the Democrats hold an 8-4 majority, neither Ms. Brown nor Mr. Szollosi has enough public support to depose Mr. Ludeman. With commitments from councilmen Mark Sobczak and Michael Ashford, Ms. Brown is four votes shy of the presidency.

Outside of Mike Craig, who prefers Mr. Szollosi, other Democrats declined to name their preferred candidate, a silence that could keep Mr. Ludeman as president past the council meeting on Tuesday. Republican Councilman George Sarantou said Mr. Ludeman deserves to stay president for demonstrating "quiet leadership."

The Democratic split over the presidency revolves around the broader question of whether City Council should operate by consulting with the mayor or publicly challenging him.

There is also the issue of succession. Under the city charter, the council president is a heartbeat away from becoming mayor, a potentially important responsibility because of Mr. Finkbeiner's 2004 bypass surgery.

"That's not, obviously, something we're thinking about," said Brian Schwartz, the mayor's spokesman.

The Finkbeiner administration has publicly maintained that it can work with whomever becomes council president.

Mr. Szollosi represents a wing of the party that opposes many of the policies - but not the goals - of the Democratic mayor. Mr. Finkbeiner has tied Toledo's future to the development of a Marina District and the retention of young college graduates.

In a Nov. 9 letter to the mayor, Mr. Szollosi and Mr. Ashford wrote that they all strive for "jobs and investments, safe clean neighborhoods, and a positive image of our community."

But against the administration's recommendation, Mr. Szollosi successfully initiated a rollback of assessment taxes, which pay for snow and leaf removal, among other services. Mr. Szollosi said that Mr. Ludeman and Ms. Brown could easily bend to the mayor's wishes.

"Neither of them has shown any willingness to hold the mayor accountable or demonstrate independence from the mayor," Mr. Szollosi said. "It doesn't create dynamic tension or honor America's tradition of checks and balances."

As evidence of her independence from Mr. Finkbeiner, Ms. Brown cited her efforts last year to re-elect Jack Ford, Toledo's first African-American mayor.

The jockeying for position comes on the horizon of a $10.6 million deficit in next year's proposed $241.7 million budget, a gap that leaves much of city government vulnerable to cuts and sacrifices.

Other than trimming unspecified "Cadillac services," Ms. Brown refrained from identifying ways to reduce the deficit because the council has until March to approve a budget.

"We've got a big budget battle coming up and I think we need a strong president, someone who can hold the council together," said Mr. Craig, a supporter of Mr. Szollosi.

Ms. Brown doubts that Mr. Szollosi has the necessary diplomatic skill. She said the council could slip into a circus of egos that would resemble the Toledo Board of Education, which Ms. Brown served on from 1985 to 1997.

"You're not taking care of business, you're arguing amongst the personalities," she said.

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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